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IDEA Health Professions

Booming East Austin's Educational Gem

"We can get our students excited about something so they work hard to explore different health professions while getting a great foundation in STEM careers.”

From the days of the thriving Armadillo World Headquarters to today’s funky live music scene, Texas’ capital city has always marched to the beat of its own drum. But Austin’s alternative vibes extend far beyond nightlife. All over town, parents and kids have different options for alternative education to explore. IDEA Health Professions, launched in 2019, is one of them.

This fall, over 700 kindergarten through 8th grade students interested in STEM and healthcare will walk through the doors of IDEA Public Schools dazzling new East Side campus—for free. The goal? To send every single one of those kids to college. Not an easy feat, but one that IDEA has so far maintained—since opening its original flagship in Donna, Texas in 2000, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has sent 100 percent of its graduates to college.

Since IDEA entered the Austin area in 2012 with IDEA Allan (now known as IDEA Montopolis), it has expanded to 16 tuition-free charter schools here, serving over 7,800 students and families. But the latest campus, IDEA Health Professions, may be the most quintessentially “Austin” of them all.

In a town increasingly known as a start-up tech city with a burgeoning health care industry, the idea behind IDEA Health Professions—the only Austin charter school focused on health professions—is to give students skills that will line-up with careers that are in demand. From a young age, students are exposed to different fields in math, science, health and engineering. The goal isn’t necessarily to have students commit to a healthcare career, but instead to help them build a strong interest—and foundation—in STEM through which to explore their interests and set them up for future career success.

Each year of elementary school, students rotate through a different discipline—from dentistry to veterinary sciences. And in addition to each having their own personal technology device issued by IDEA, all students have access to cutting-edge equipment including 3-D printers, robotics, and CAD software. By middle school, classes include public health electives and Biomedical Engineering. Of course, it’s not all strategic courses. IDEA Health Profession students excel at sports, from soccer to basketball to volleyball, and participate in a wide-range of extracurricular activities like talent shows.

Because IDEA operates via an open-enrollment lottery, a student’s background or academic experience aren’t criteria for selection. And while the goal is to get every kid to college, it’s just as much—if not more—about providing a place to students to explore their interests.

IDEA Health Professions Principal Cameron Cook put it this way for a recent “Teachers and Leaders” blog: “Of course, parents would love to see their child become a doctor, but we don’t know what our kids are going to be,” Cook said. “But as my science teacher did for me, we can get our students excited about something so they work hard to explore different health professions while getting a great foundation in STEM careers.”

Cook sees IDEA Health Professions not just as a way of changing the landscape of East Austin and the families living there but as an investment in the community. “When you look at doctors, surgeons and dentists throughout the state, it is overwhelmingly white,” he told IDEA’s blog. “That’s why IDEA Health Professions is here—to invest in our community and change that landscape.”

Perhaps the most illustrative example of IDEA Health Professions working to invest in East Austin via the intersection of education and healthcare? This May, the school vaccinated over 950 community members against COVID-19.